TWO women and five men have appeared before a judge charged in connection with a police investigation into an alleged East Lancashire human trafficking and prostitution ring.

The seven defendants, who are all Romanian nationals, appeared at Preston Crown Court over the prison video link and spoke to confirm their names, date of births and nationality during a series of short hearings.

Valentina Cretu, 30, of Douglas Place, Blackburn, appeared alongside Mihaela-diana Barbieru, 31, of Romley Road, Luton, from Styal Prison.

Valentin Carama, 38, of Oakenhurst Road, Blackburn, appeared alongside Stefan Ion, of Wensley Road, Blackburn, and Razavan Zidaru, 29, of Douglas Place, Blackburn, from Preston Prison.

Valentin Aurelian Ghelase, 35, of Fielden Street, Blackburn, appeared alongside Marius Florian Serban, 38, of Castleton Road, Preston, from Liverpool Prison.

They are all accused of arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to them being exploited and intentionally controlling the activities of another person in relation to their prostitution. Both offences are said to have taken place in Blackburn between June 1, 2019 and March 10, 2020.

Their arrests came as part of the East Exploitation Team's Operation Brixton, which saw what are said to be seven pop-up brothels identified in Blackburn and Preston. Police believe they have identified up to 20 victims.

Judge Sara Dodd ordered that the defendants should not be arraigned until the prosecution serve a case outline to the defence.

A provisional trial date was set for December. It will be heard before Judge Robert Altham and Preston Crown Court and is anticipated to last up to seven weeks.

The court heard that the current trial date exceeds the present custody time limits for all seven defendants.

Addressing the defendant's Judge Dodd said: "You will understand that we are that we are trying to fix a trial date. The current date that this court can accommodate for a trial of all of you is December 7. Enquiries are going to be made by the administration to see if another court can deal with it earlier."

All the defendants were remanded back into custody until July 3 when they are expected to be produced at court for a pre-trial review. The custody time limit issue will be dealt with then.